‘Another essential reform to the primary curriculum is to ensure that all pupils are taught efficient calculation methods - rather than spending too much time on confusing, time-consuming methods like chunking and gridding.’
‘These tortured techniques have been the trend in recent years. Instead of simple, efficient columnar long multiplication and division, children have been taught to rely on intermediate methods, splitting numbers into smaller chunks and parts, working them out separately and repeatedly adding numbers together, or taking them away.’
Ex-schools minister, Liz Truss, January 2013
It was surprising, then, that one of the ‘tortured techniques’ was used in a Department for Education (DfE) propaganda video. Right at the end Dan Abramson, founder of King’s College Maths School, a free school specialising in mathematics, demonstrated the grid method of multiplication and applied it to algebra.
Truss had wondered ‘why the British education system has adopted an untried method for teaching maths, which holds back the most able and confuses everyone else.’
But this ‘untried method’ nevertheless features in a DfE video allegedly showing the exciting teaching that happens in free schools and academies (but not, by implication, in LA maintained schools).
A cynic might say that when a method loathed by a schools minister is used in non-free schools it is described as a ‘tortured technique’. But when it turns up in a free school it’s innovatory.
Or perhaps there’s a simpler explanation: the DfE propagandists hadn’t a clue what Truss meant and when they saw a free school teacher demonstrating the derided technique they thought, ‘Wow! That’s just what we need to show the country the type of exciting teaching that goes on in free schools!’
But there’s a sour taste to this story. Pupils taking Key Stage 2 Maths Sats receive no marks for a wrong answer if they used chunking or the grid method but pupils who get the answer wrong when using Truss’s favoured ‘traditional’ method would be rewarded. This means pupils using Truss’s 'approved' methods are given marks not available to pupils using methods she dislikes.
How did Abramson describe the traditional method? At the start of the video he explained a ‘trick’ (described more fully at the end) to calculate 35x35. Doing it the traditional way, he said, was a ‘long, tedious and boring process.’
But ‘long, tedious and boring’ will continue to be the DfE’s only preferred method. Two times schools minister Nick Gibb told the Telegraph
he also disliked non-traditional methods of teaching maths.
The DfE propagandists obviously don’t agree - multiplying using a grid looked exciting particularly when done at breakneck speed. Or perhaps the DfE just doesn’t have a clue - Abramson was after all demonstrating a traditional method - he was using chalk on a blackboard.
Thanks to Michael Rath for telling us about this story.
The video is available here
. See the start and then fast-forward to 27mins 51 seconds for a full demonstration.